At the start of the 2020 Fall Quarter, approximately 500 graduate students were left without their University of California Student Health Insurance Plans, because UC San Diego did not enroll them on time. Some of these students allege that they were left without insurance for approximately two weeks, during which time they had to make out-of-pocket expenses if they wanted to have their doctors appointments and receive their prescription drugs.
According to the United Auto Workers Local 2865 union’s grievance filed against UCSD, some academic student employees noticed that their insurance remained inactivated even though they had provided all payments and documentation on time. The grievance, which was sent to the University of California’s Labor Relations for adjudication, claims that UCSD had violated a part of the UC/UAW Collective Bargaining Agreement by not renewing the students’ insurance in a timely fashion.
“I was set to scheule [my doctor’s appointment] finally but then I was told over the phone that my insurance was inactive,” third year ethnic studies PhD student Muhammad Yousuf said to The UCSD Guardian. “I couldn’t believe it at the time because I was registered as a full-time student and all my fees were paid.”
Yousuf was not enrolled for SHIP because he submitted his paperwork after the date that UCSD sent a processing notification to Academic HealthPlans. AHP is the health plan enrollment/waiver administrator that processes student’s paperwork to send over to insurance carriers. Although Yousuf had provided his documentation prior to his academic department’s submission deadline, the university had already sent their available roster on Sept. 21.
UCSD claims that they sent the processing notification early in order to get more students insured by the start of the academic year on Oct. 1. They have also since stated that students who received medical services during their period without SHIP will be retroactively covered and be provided with reimbursements for their out-of-pocket expenses.
“UC San Diego did not purposely delay insurance for any students. The eligibility process takes time and if students are not registered when the enrollment files are transferred, their active eligibility is delayed,” a Student Health & Wellbeing representative said to The UCSD Guardian in an email. “UC San Diego works to abide by the AHP’s schedule for enrollment, but due to slow selection into various graduate education programs and registration of students, some students may not be listed on the enrollment file.”
Although UCSD Student Health & Wellbeing said that they informed the Grad Division, the Graduate Student Association and the Student Workers Union of the delay, some students still claim that they were not notified of their lack of insurance until they had attempted to use it. For students who contacted SHIP individually, insurance reactivation took approximately 2–3 business days.
“If a student was not included in the 9/21/20 list and needs immediate coverage, SHS can provide an urgent add to the enrollment file and have their coverage expedited,” Assistant Dean of Graduate Student Affairs April Bjornsen said in an email to Yousuf. “SHS provides rosters every other week to the brokerage or on a needed basis. SHS can also add a student individually if needed.”
Fourth-year theater Ph.D. student Kristin Leadbetter, who is jointly enrolled at UC Irvine and UCSD, registered for insurance with the former school. Because her UCSD department did not properly file her insurance paperwork for transfer from UCI, she did not have her prescribed medication over a weekend.
“Side effects I’ve experienced in the past include nausea, vomiting, panic attacks, and fatigue,” Leadbetter said. “Going off of all [my medications] was a combination of the worst withdrawal symptoms. I didn’t want to leave my house because I felt like a zombie… There was no possibility to get work done, to do research, to really do anything other than just lay on the couch and try not to vomit.”
Although Leadbetter had acute symptoms, she decided to go without medication because it would have cost her over $1,000 out-of-pocket. After the weekend, she was able to contact a SHIP associate who helped reinstate her insurance in the next 48 hours.
Fourth-year chemistry graduate student Eleanor Castracane faced a similar issue when they had to go to an appointment and purchase additional medication. They discovered at Ralph’s Pharmacy that their insurance did not work and that they would have to pay out-of-pocket. However, Castracane was able to negotiate with the pharmacy for a reimbursement of their medicine and later had one of their claims processed by SHIP’s insurance partner, Anthem, for reimbursement.
“We don’t get a notification if we’ve been dropped. We just have to try to use our insurance and at that point, they tell you whether or not it’s ok,” Castracane said. “This isn’t a new thing that has happened… Last fall  was worse because they changed insurance enrollment companies. Almost all [graduate] students were late in getting their insurance.”
Castracane’s comment was corroborated by another student who said their insurance was rejected last Fall 2019 by a private dental office when they went in for a routine procedure. This person has requested to remain anonymous. When reaching out to the university, this person was also informed that inactive insurance at the beginning of the quarter was a regular process.
“What [UCSD] told me was that at the start of every quarter there is a ‘verification period’ during which the school verifies all of our fees and tuition are paid before they update our plans,” the source said. “Apparently, we needed to contact the insurance company at Student Health Services ahead of time if we needed some necessary appointment during this 10 day period. I was told [by UCSD] that there is no documentation on the internet or in print, so we had to know about it anyways.”
The university has responded by citing discrepancies that exist between insurance enrollment and student registration. Rather than allowing students to enroll for insurance on their own, some academic departments act as an intermediary by processing and sending student documentation to SHIP. This additional step consequently makes the overall enrollment process longer.
“Moving forward, our department will work with these academic departments to create a better schedule, so that we include all students that are expecting to be included in the insurance offering,” the Student Health & Wellbeing representative said. “We would love to have everyone covered by the first day of the quarter but due to a fluid registration process – in which students are still registering for classes past the first official date of the quarter – we are unable to do this. We are working on our timing, so that this issue doesn’t affect students in the future.”
UCSD Student Health & Wellbeing will continue to work with the Graduate Division to develop better, more timely registration practices to ensure that all students who want SHIP insurance are able to receive it. However, without that support and earlier notification in September, students still found themselves in a difficult situation.
“I understand the need to update your rosters and be as accurate as possible when you’re giving insurance, but it is a bureaucratic nightmare that is susceptible to error, especially in a situation like this,” Yousuf said. “For graduate students having been unenrolled during the pandemic, during Return to Learn, when it’s possible that you’ve been exposed to COVID, and with times of increased stress on mental health, accessing [health insurance] services is vital.”
For reimbursement-related inquiries, please contact Anthem Blue Cross at 1-800-940-8306 or Delta Dental at 1-800-765-6003. Reimbursements typically take a few weeks to be processed.
To inquire more about SHIP insurance, please contact Student Health and Wellbeing’s insurance department at 858-534-2124 or email at [email protected]. If you would like to report your case to the UAW Local 2865, please fill out this survey.
Photo courtesy of Irvin Yang for The UCSD Guardian.